Last week, Orange County made headlines when an intended KKK rally in Anaheim turned violent. There is a small (and elderly) group of people in Orange County who still participate in the Klu Klux Klan. Their last rally was a few years ago . . . all of 3 people showed up. This year, the leader invited chapters outside of the county, and was still only able to strum up about 10 people. Their planned rally was publicized by some local papers, so by the time they showed up to the park, there were already about 300 protesters waiting for them. Most of the protesters were peaceful. They held signs and hoped their presence would communicate desent. But there were about a dozen men who showed up for a fight, and when the klansmen got out of their truck, they were very quickly assaulted. I’m not quite sure where the police presence was, but about 6 people got back in the truck and sped away as windows were smashed, leaving behind 3 klansmen who were quickly surrounded by an angry group. It turned into a brawl, with the klansmen stabbing several people until the police finally showed up. It was bloody but fortunately no one was killed.
When I first heard about the melee and learned that the klansmen had been run off or attacked by men of all races, my first reaction was:
I was glad that they were confronted and even felt some glee as I watched video of angry men surrounding them and beating them down. Having been under attack by white supremacists online for over a month, I felt a bit vindicated seeing such hateful people come face-to-face with the same level of vitriol they spew at others.
At the same time, I was also aware that the violence became a sort of scapegoat for those looking to minimize or dismiss the black lives matter movement. “See . . . they are just as hateful.” I was seeing this kind of sentiment being expressed by people in local online forums.
After my momentary schaudenfreude, I was reminded that hate met with hate is not the answer, and that violence is not a solution. So when I heard that there was going to be a peaceful protest and prayer vigil two days following, I decided to go and to take my kids. I was hopeful that a large crowed would show our county (and our country) that Orange County is not a place that tolerates hate groups, but also that violence is not the preferred solution.
When my kids and I arrived at the protest, it was the Muslim hour of prayer. As we approached, we saw a large group of people doing their prayers. We saw a group of Native Americans burning incense. We saw people of all races joined in prayer, passing out candles, and singing. It was truly a beautiful sight, and it made me weepy.
Several people addressed the crowd, including leaders from the black community, the Mexican-American community, and the Arab-American community in Orange County. We also heard from the mayor, who said, “The KKK has the right to hold their beliefs, but they are not welcome in Anaheim.” After some short speeches, we all began a candelight march to the country couthourse, singing We Shall Overcome and chanting words of peace and freedom along the way.
At the courthouse, we were led in prayer by a Rabbi, a Muslim minister, and a Christian pastor. During the prayer, some friends of one of the protestors, who had physically attacked the KKK and been subsequently arrested, showed up. They were wearing bandanas over their faces and attempted to disrupt the prayer service. They were shouting obscenities, screaming over the speakers, making gang signs, and basically attempting to pull attention to themselves instead of the prayers. They were angry and irrational. Several people asked them to quiet down. And they were frightening to the many children in attendance.
These people were the catalyst to a great conversation with my kids on the way home. We talked about how their anger was valid. As Mexican-Americans, they have no doubt encountered many instances of racism, and they have a right to feel angry. But then we talked about what to do with anger . . . and how anger, when not kept in check, can allow you to behave in ways that do not help the cause you are fighting. It can even cause you to attack the very people who want to be your ally. We talked about the many people of color who organized the peaceful protest, and how many of them probably felt the same anger, but channeled it in a different way.
We also talked about the notion of “looking to the helpers.” This is a concept I’ve heard about when talking to kids about tragedies. Looking to the people who spring into action and offer assistance can help make sense of horrible things. We talked about how many people showed up for this rally, and how hundereds of people were there to show that racism is wrong. We talked about the small handful of racists compared to the huge crowd who showed up to walk. It was difficult to tell my kids that the KKK tried to hold a meeting so close to our house, but I also felt good to show them the number of people who were willing to show up and push back.